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Michigan lawmakers search for ways to keep poor residents warm

user dominic's pics / Flickr

At the state Capitol, the debate continues over how to ensure there’s money available to help thousands of low-income families that need help paying their heating bills this winter. The need for a solution is becoming more urgent as temperatures start to dip below freezing, and the Legislature is a week away from starting its winter break.

Senator Mike Nofs chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee. He said a solution will be in place before the Legislature begins its holiday break next week.

“Because, you know, people are having trouble and, you know, it’s happening today,” said Nofs. “People are having trouble paying their bills. As it is, whether the money comes from here or there doesn’t matter. We have to take care of the issue of keeping people warm and I think the House and the Senate are committed to that.”

House and Senate committees today approved competing versions of legislation to pay for a home-heating assistance program, but State Representative Ken Horn said low-income families are still covered while lawmakers find a solution.

“Some of the matching funds that were available through the social services agencies are being spent out here in December and probably into January," said Horn. "So there is a sense of urgency, but we still have time. We’ll deal with a better part of that here just before Christmas and then solve our problem for the entire winter.”

Michigan does not outlaw winter shutoffs, but most utilities offer shut-off protection if people ask for it. Court decisions and federal budget cuts have virtually eliminated millions of dollars that previously helped thousands of families.

The plans up for discussion are stop-gap solutions. The Legislature would still have to come up with a long-term plan to fund home-heating assistance in the future.

Top five counties receiving home heating aid:

  1. Wayne
  2. Oakland
  3. Marquette
  4. Alger
  5. Jackson

Source: The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW)

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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